The Fallacies of Quick Fixes in School Reform . . . and Life

The Fallacies of Quick Fixes in School Reform . . . and Life

Recently I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. I knew my blood sugars were trending higher for years, and I had resolved to lose 50 pounds this year to prevent this outcome from occurring. 3 months into this year I had lost 25 pounds . . . and I learned I had uncontrolled fasting blood sugars in the 400s. 3 months ago I had my blood sugar levels checked and they were creeping up into the pre-diabetic range, but I was fine. I had a lot of warning signs that something was wrong, including blurring vision I attributed to getting old, a dramatic increase in being thirsty I attributed to giving up sodas and exercising more, and a dramatic increase in confusion and forgetfulness I chalked up to just being busy. If readers recall, I travelled to Austin in March but managed to leave my suitcase with all my belongings at home in my front yard. I also was supposed to appear on Frances and Friends a few weeks later but lost my phone, directions and mind. I’ve also managed to forget my daughter’s soccer ball and every practice I took her too, although thankfully I usually remember the kids. I’ve also been having trouble sitting down and composing blog entries and night from fatigue and an inability to focus. (To, those of you who have submitted information to me to create stories or research, I am moving slower but still making progress now.) Now that I am getting a handle on my condition things are starting to firm up and my confusion seems more obvious now in retrospect. I’ve been running labs, seeing doctors, dietitians and specialists and what seems to be the consensus is that taking steroid shots back to back to address my Pneumonia and Bronchitis in February and March overwhelmed my pancreas and triggered my condition. I went from just entering the warning zone to a serious case of uncontrolled diabetes over a few months. Fortunately, I was working with my doctor while I was trying to lose so much weight and get in shape and we caught it right away.  If  my condition had remained untreated until an annual physical I would have ended up in the hospital, if I was lucky.

So where am I going with this do you ask?

I did what many of us probably do without thinking. I went to the after-hours clinic, told them I was sick and needed to get well fast, and asked them to load me up with shots and whatever they could give me to get me back on my feet as fast as possible.  “I don’t have time to be sick,” I told them.  Getting an appointment with my primary care physician is always harder, but he has all my medical history and is more qualified, has more experience, and is more familiar with my case history and medications. I was trying to save up as much time as I can to go to meetings, to get blog posts done, to meet with parents, to attend and present at conferences and to still have time for my job and my family so I couldn’t afford to take time for more mundane matters like a common cold. Without considering the consequences, I chose the easiest path. As a result I made myself much sicker with what might be a permanently debilitating condition. (I do have a slim chance of reversing it if I take extra special care of myself over the next 6 months and lose some more weight. Things I should have done before so I would not have been put in the position I am now.) I did not know that getting steroid shots and oral steroids could trigger diabetes and I thought I was being proactive and taking care of myself.  As I’ve learned since, those treatments dramatically raise blood sugars and for those of us in Louisiana already a little overweight, this can rapidly accelerate a process that would normally take years. I’m writing this in part to warn folks about steroids and diabetes. Sometimes steroids may be necessary, when you have Pneumonia like I did for the first round, but maybe not if you just have a cold or Bronchitis and you’ve recently received them. It’s great that you want to do something quickly, but quick or unresearched actions can cause much more harm than good.

In case you were wondering, this is where the School Reform critique comes in. A lot of times we try to apply quick fixes that are nothing more than ineffective Band-Aids to our problems in our daily lives and in public policy.

That’ll fix it!

This type of fix gives us the satisfaction of saying we’ve quickly addressed a problem and a visible verification of the fix. However simple Band-Aids may not be ideal solutions for brown recluse spider bites, or structurally damaged vehicles in previous picture. The Band-Aid solution does not make the car pictured safer, doesn’t permit the doors to open, and applying that Band-Aid means the passenger side window has to remain open. . . but we can say we fixed it!  It didn’t cost us as much a door replacement, paint job and body repair, but it was quick and required little effort or long-term commitment on our part.

This is the way much of modern-day school reform works in the US.

Allow me to show you some examples.

Charter Schools

Charter schools were first marketed as a way to provide quality educations, to help underserved populations like the disabled or Limited English Proficient, and to differentiate emphasis on instruction (say charter schools for Engineering, Math, the Arts or Foreign Language immersion.) When it was discovered that these schools often performed worse, failed to provide certified teachers or staff for special education students, and that serving high needs populations was expensive and reflected poorly on charter school’s rankings compared to schools with average populations many charter schools opted instead to appeal to the wealthiest and least cumbersome students. What started as an easy fix, if the local school system is not working, slap a charter school or three on it, turned into a serious threat, a disease on public education. Charter school mania is a disease that now threatens to devour the host.

Larvae devouring host caterpillar

What started out as a quick fix to apply to ailing public education systems to provide a quality education for some of the students is actually making education worse for most of them by siphoning off financial resources, teachers, and students and leaving the hardest to educate students behind.

[I urge you all to support HB 703 currently pending a vote in the House Education committee. This bill restricts the spread of charter schools into A, B and C districts, like has recently happened to Iberville and Lafayette, by requiring these schools get approval of the local school boards. If you believe in local education, I urge you to contact the members of the House Education committee to support this Bill.]

Common Core

  • Colleges are claiming they face a problem of too many children requiring remediation.
  • Businesses are claiming High School graduates are not career ready when they graduate.
  • Testing and textbook companies are complaining about all the different version of textbooks and tests they have to prepare every year.

To them, the obvious solution was to create a universal standardized curriculum that everyone would have to take and pass to graduate. This, simple enough seeming solution, created many problems.

Not all education is testable. You cannot test the arts with bubbles. You cannot test a student’s drive or thirst for additional learning. You cannot test a child’s creativity (which Common Core stifles) on a standardized test.  These aspects of education are whittled away to nothing under Common Core. This will create a generation of education hating test bubble makers, not the creative class that is responsible for our place as the greatest inventors and artists with the greatest per capita renewable economy on the planet.

The Common Core curriculum that was created is not rigorous, just tedious. Tedium does not equate to rigor except of the “mortis” variety. Advanced Math and Calculus was not included in Common Core. Students will not be STEM ready without that exposure. Colleges will have to provide that instruction and remediation, just as they have been. However fewer students will want to pursue those types of careers because of how obnoxious the math has become.

Companies will not have more employees ready to complete upon graduation. This curriculum was never tested, it is being piloted on a massive scale without any supporting research that it works. Early indications are that Common Core math is producing lower test scores in all states that adopted compared to those state’s previous math scores, and compared to other states that did not implement the Common Core math.  Common Core does not work and will and will make our children worse off.

Now there is so much chaos as a result of pushing Common Core, sight unseen and untested, that states are having problems pulling out of it. Students and parents are getting frustrated and pulling their kids out of school to homeschool them, or enrolling them in non-public schools that have rejected Common Core. Experienced teachers are fleeing the profession in record numbers, and newer teachers are leaving in droves as well. The rushed and unresearched manner is which a universal curriculum was pushed upon the Nation through trickery, bribery and deception is ruining public education for millions of children and families.

 Closing “Failing” Schools

One of the favorite tactics of school reformers is closing the schools they have defined as “failing”.  Whether the school is actually “failing” the students is beside the point.  All a school has to do to be defined as failing is have a concentration of poor students, students with disabilities or English Language learners.  Schools are not judged based on whether they serve children well, simply based on demographics.  To become a successful school all one needs to do is attract wealthier students and dissuade poorer students from enrolling as was the disabled or students from recently emigrated families.  Reformers trot out the occasional High performing High poverty school to “show” us that poverty doesn’t matter, but when you look at these cases a little closer you find numerous mitigating factors including dramatically increased funding, a poorly defined “poverty” measure, cheating or high concentration of wraparound services and highly qualified teachers that reformers claim are unnecessary.  The believe simply moving these children to “successful” school will magically make them become overachievers, and negate the impacts of poverty, abuse, neglect and apathy. This is not true.  All this does is mask the problem while the schools poor children are evicted from are turned over to privatizers who often perform worse than the schools they replace and are successively shut down and rebranded year after year to disguise the massive, systemic failures of the charter movement.

Rather than recognizing how often charters fail, States like Louisiana point to the numerous closures and claim success!  This is the free market in action, and we are holding these schools “accountable”.  Meanwhile no one seems to actually care what happens to the children and communities.  They take and claim for granted that these children have been “helped” by this displacement, but they are careful not to track them or allow anyone to report on their outcomes.

They know the truth, and they fear it.

Poverty matters

It is true that poverty can be overcome.  It’s not the sole determinate in whether a student is successful, but it is a major component and not one that can be overcome by simply opening up Rocketship Academies staffed with teachers trained for 5 weeks and implementing Common Core. Overcoming the reductive impacts of poverty on educational outcomes requires hard work, money, determination and a significant time commitment.  This is not something most education reformers want you to hear.  They want to inject the education system with magic steroid shots in the form of High Stakes Testing, VAM teacher evaluations, charter schools, virtual schools, Common Core, and a parade of poorly trained fresh-faced can do chanting recruits from TFA and the New Teacher Project.  They want to reduce funding to students and channel it educational entrepreneurs and data harvesters who will claim to have the latest and greatest data potions to improve educational outcomes without the hard work such endeavours have traditionally taken in the past.

Reformers want to be in charge.  They want to “believe” that their reforms will improve the outcomes of children, while they make a tidy profit on the side.  Louisiana’s John White is a typical reformer.  He is so invested in this philosophy that he even renamed the official Louisiana Department of Education website “Louisiana Believes”.  He has formed Louisiana Believes committees and recruits to support his message and preach his gospel of reform.  What he has also done is prevent anyone impartial form getting access to any data that unequivocally disproves his “beliefs”.  John White “believes” his reforms are working, or at least that is what he is trying to brainwash the state of Louisiana and the nation into believing.

The reality is much different.

If John White had any faith in his beliefs he wouldn’t need to hide his data, and contract with shill organizations like CREDO, Stand For Children, and the Cowen institute to produce poorly research propaganda to support his “beliefs”.

If reforms were working they could show us the proof and that would shut people like me up once and for all.

The truth is, there are no quick fixes for what ails Education and our society.

We are the wealthiest Nation on earth and yet have perhaps the largest income and wealth gap as well. Reformers have correctly identified that this poverty is impacting our children, and our nation’s competitiveness.  This poverty does pose a threat to our global position as a world leader and a lack of a proper education does impact future earnings for children as they become adults and makes it more likely these children and their families will end up on public assistance or perhaps incarcerated.  Those negative outcomes have a significant cost to our society and changing those to positive outcomes could result in a substantial net benefit.  The answer is not reducing our educational funding, closing schools with at-risk students, forcing children and teachers to Race To The Top or be the Children Left Behind.  The answer is not a quick shot in the butt, or crossing our fingers and “hoping” Common Core works (in a generation).

The answer is the same as it has always been. Hard work.  Focus.  Determination. Dedication.  Adequate Funding.  Squarely addressing our problems, not hiding from them or disguising them or saying “Screw it, if I can’t fix it at least we can make some money off this problem” as I see many of the latest education entrants doing.   Our public education system was not perfect, but now it is sick with all the quick-fix reform “treatments” we’ve heaped upon it.  We can reverse this illness before it becomes fatal.  But to do so, it will require we abandon the harmful quick-fix approaches and buckle down for some slow-going old-fashioned hard work.

I ask that you help me do this.

I will do the same.

Let’s check back in six months and see where we are.

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Defies Measurement Update

Defies Measurement Update

About a month ago I was lucky to receive a visit from the blog’s favorite videographer, Shannon Puckett.

Here’s one of my last posts about her documentary project: https://crazycrawfish.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/defies-measurement-is-almost-funded/

In addition to the interview she did with me about my time at LDOE I got to chat with her about other cool issues while she was getting her tire replaced. She managed to make it to the Albertson’s on Airline Hwy Hammond before her tire gave out from a log she hit on I 10. She was lucky to make it that far with an inch long tear in the sidewall (personally I think she has magic powers or a guardian angel.) That was only a few miles from my house so I dropped by the check on her and then I escorted her the rest of the way to my house.

Update from Kickstarter project
Hi all –

I am very excited to report that I’m wrapping up filming and will head into post-production soon. I have interviewed some amazing individuals across the country and can hardly wait to begin piecing the footage together.

The interviews exceeded expectations. Everyone was magnificent: passionate, eloquent, thoughtful and concise. I am grateful.

Interviewing and reconnecting with former colleagues and students from Chipman has filled my heart. When I feel overwhelmed by all of the issues I’d like to include in the film and when I feel an urgency to speed up production, I think of Chipman and it centers me. I am thankful.

I still plan on having a Final Cut completed by Fall of 2014. I will keep you posted.

Continued thanks to all of you. You’ve been with me throughout it all. You were there when I shared a pot of tea and talked for an hour and a half after interviewing a fierce child advocate in Pennsylvania. You were there when I listened to a mother and parent activist speak so thoughtfully and passionately about how the reform efforts in New Orleans schools have been failing their children. You were even with me when I got a flat tire in Baton Rouge after running over a log on hwy 10. It has been an adventure.

As always, thanks so much for your support.

Best
Shannon

ps – Another way to keep updated is by visiting and “liking” the Defies Measurement Facebook page.

Also, if you’re interested in learning more about the issues that will be addressed in the film, check out www.shineonpro.com

I’ve never been interviewed for a documentary before, but I had a good time, and Shannon’s questions had me thinking more about what it is I’m doing and what I’m hoping to accomplish.  (I’m not sure I was in a position to do much before, but now…?) Her questions made me recall the good times I had at LDOE, and all the good people I worked with at the department and in the LEAs (School Districts) before the education reformers came her to discard us all like so much used toilet paper. Now that I am out, looking in, I see a lot of opportunities we missed, a lot more collaboration we could have done, and lack of focus and public engagement. I think it’s true many of us accepted a certain level of corruption, squabbling, and failure of and within out public school system and the various stakeholders that made us vulnerable to the faux school reform being offered by John White and his ilk. From talking to parents, kids, educators and superintendents I can see that what is going on is very disruptive, very harmful in many cases and aimed to destroy public education and drive out experienced educators. But what we had in the past had its share of problems as well.

Reform is designed to make education profitable, but it is not meant to actually improve the lots of the majority of our children, to improve our schools or to make education less expensive for tax payers. I think LDOE could have taken a more active roll working directly with our school districts and communities to improve our education systems. By not doing more, we allowed Reformers the room to write a narrative where the status quo was to blame for the lack of success in our school systems. In their narrative, by sweeping us out, great gains could be make and children would prosper. We became the enemy, the uncaring adults standing in the way of poor children getting a proper education, caring to much about our pensions and job titles and too little about those in our charge. However once we were gone, no one was left to watch the candy store, and success could be written however Reformers pleased, and they have. Having used our data and the media against us, Reformers learned all too well the value and danger of data and clamped down on the free flow of information that was our downfall.

You see, what we reported was not pretty, it was real. The roll poverty plays in impacting children’s education levels and opportunities is also very real. We knew this before we knew reform and reformers. We talked about it as an indisputable given, and it is. Just as it was true then, it is true now. Even knowing this we did too little to address this issue because it was not polite, it was not politically savvy, it was not pretty considering how very poor our state is, and the solution was not going to be cheap. By not addressing this problem ourselves, by not facing this harsh reality and actually trying to do something significant about it, we made ourselves and our state vulnerable to the snake oil salesmen of reform with their soothing lies that poverty is just an excuse made by lazy people or people that have low expectations. This is an appealing story in a country founded by hard working immigrants, tenacious inventors and shrewd entrepreneurs. Unfortunately it’s just that, a story, a fairytale, a ruse. Poverty does matter. And this is where data, and understanding data comes in.

Poverty is not an absolute, and our measure for this is crude and flawed.

targeting

Today we have laser guided missiles that can pinpoint targets accurately within inches from many miles away, from planes traveling at supersonic speeds. This allows us to discriminate among friendly targets and use more precise ordinance to accomplish a goal of eliminating an enemy combatant. Thousands of engineers and scientists running millions of simulations and expending millions or rounds went into that precise calculation. Many calculations are factored into how that missile flies and how accurate it can be, from wind speed, to precipitation and visibility.

The way we determine poverty is, for the most part, is just free and reduced lunch eligibility based on whether they applied and qualified for food stamps at some point in the last year. We don’t know how long children have qualified; we don’t know which kids were “poor” last year and no longer “poor” by this single metric. We don’t know which kids are “poor” but their parents refuse to allow school districts to label their kids this way, refuse the free lunches. Many parents do. This metric is very sloppy. We do not have relative poverty, there are no levels. Every student is classified as either “rich” or “poor”, and that difference may be only a few dollars a year in income or whether your parents applied for free lunches. Many high school students prefer to refuse lunch than be classified as free lunch, but doing so makes them “rich” to data folks even if they have no place to sleep on a regular basis and no regular meals, no stable parental influence at home. Reformers understand this, but most of you don’t.

Within this very flawed metric is where reformers, like Leslie Jacobs, work their magic. They tout high performing, high poverty schools.

New Orleans Gains Continue!

I am amazed and awed by the continued academic improvement of our schools and students. In 8 years:

We have more high performing, high poverty schools than anywhere else in Louisiana.

This is a grand achievement! (Even though they simultaneously refuse to recognize poverty is a factor in performance.)

School Performance Scores would factor in poverty if they really believed it was a factor. As things stand now, wealthier districts have very little chance of being taken over by the state while virtually every poor district in the state will be taken over as things are progressing now.

What is actually happening in New Orleans, where 90-95% of the children in the public school system are classified as “poor” by Louisiana’s definition, is that an additional “sorting” is taking place. Charter schools like KIPP are placing additional burdens on families to weed out those families with fewer hours to dedicate to service (because they are working two jobs to get by or because the kids are being raised by their grandparents, or a single parent who can’t afford child care.) Charter schools are weeding out children with discipline problems (student’s with numerous discipline problems usually have less stable lives and are often even poorer, than the one size fits all definition of “poor” kids the state recognizes.)

Data can be a valuable tool, for good and for ill. Sometimes it’s what we don’t measure, or can’t measure, that really matters.

Reformers have learned what metrics work best for their narrative and they have shrewdly learned not to measure or explain things that they can exploit because the measure is so crude. Just as we knew poverty was an issue that needed to be addressed, reformers know they are not really addressing the issue of educating poor kids. They are allowing charter schools to strategically filter out the poorest children to traditional schools, so they can claim success. To people just looking at the data they provide, those children are all the same, rich and poor. However reformers know and charter schools know there are poor kids, and then there are the poorest kids which they can shuttle off to traditional public schools. These organizations have invested heavily in R&D, and they have their own laser targeting systems they use behind the scenes to cherry pick the students they want and to eliminate the students they don’t want.

 

 

I’m late; I’m late, for a very important. . . Review of Diane Ravitch’s new book “Reign of Error”

I’m late; I’m late, for a very important. . . Review of Diane Ravitch’s new book “Reign of Error”

If you’re like me, you’re late to everything. For instance, my mom is fond of telling me I was late to my own birth. In my defense I always remind her that my brother was three weeks lake and I was only about one week, so relatively speaking I was early. No matter what else happens in life, I will always have that to hold over my brother. Perspective is very important.

For instance, if I surrounded myself with skinny fit people I would feel very fat and unhealthy all the time. That’s why I make it a point of distancing myself from anyone who becomes too obsessed with P90X or Cross fit programs. That type of association would not be good for my mental health. I also make it a point of only befriending folks who are larger than me, especially if they with more physical limitations like a hook for a hand, or a patch over one eye. (Yes. I have a lot of pirate friends.) I also really like to befriend really bald people because they are very jealous of my unruly mop of hair – which I find annoying, but they find enviable. Perspective is what Diane’s book, Reign of Error, is all about.

Reformers and privatizers (not to be confused with my pirate compadres) like to frame their pseudo-successes in a context that makes them look good, and the things they are opposing look bad. For instance, they like to point to the performance of the poor and minorities on standardized tests and show the current achievement gap between them and the wealthy is not closing. They characterize this as bad, and evidence that our education system is failing. Diane provides some context for this claim. While it is true that the poor perform poorer on standardized tests than the well off (which is true and has always been true in every nation on earth), it’s also true that over the last 20 years their scores have increased on the NAEP test to where their wealthier counterparts were. The reason the achievement gap is not closing is that all students are doing better, not that the poor and minorities are doing worse. Because poverty is directly intertwined with performance, that’s like saying 20 years later the average height of US citizens is greater, but sadly we have not been able to close the altitude gap. Tall people are still taller than short people.

Reformers point to the results of other nations like China and Sweden to say we are falling behind in the world because they did better on the 2010 PISA (Program for International Assessment) tests than we did. Diane brings perspective there as well showing that the Chinese students have a culture of preparing for the test but not learning the material and that all of China was not tested, only one city, the city of Shanghai which is not representative of all of China, much of which is still very poor and very rural (pg64). Reformers point out that countries like Sweden do better, but they fail to put those results in the proper perspective as well, that most of Sweden is middle class, and the United State has more income inequality and poverty than any other industrialized nation. When students of similar economic backgrounds are compared US students, US students do just as well or better than any other country in the world. The real issue is poverty, which is now the primary determining factor of student performance. It’s no coincidence that wealthy Americans, who are against equitable taxation and income equality, are pretending poverty is not a determining factor and actively funding research and solutions to deny this in much the same way Tobacco companies funded research to say smoking is good for you, and coating your lungs in tar makes your lungs happy and durable like Goodyear tires.

Diane’s perspective setting and record correcting does not stop there. She also points out that Reformers like Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee commonly misquote President Barack Obama by saying that teachers are the most important factor for determining the education level and achievement of a child. This is a self-serving mischaracterization to support their misguided agenda of putting a what they say is a highly effective teacher (as determined by standardized tests) in a classroom. Obama stated that a teacher was the most important component of the equation within a school. This does not mean poverty, family, health, mental conditions, disabilities, language difficulties, and school climate are not factors, nor does it mean a teacher is the primary factor. That statement is conveyed by those who want to attribute the “failings” of our public schools (which is untrue) to the ones they say are responsible, the teachers (which is also untrue). This is done in a bid to eliminate teachers, public schools, and unions and replace them with a substandard, poorly trained and compensated, temp teaching force that will help maximize profit for profiteers, while permanently harming our children and shattering the foundation of our democracy, an educated populace.

Just like everything else I suppose, I came later to the battle to fight the privatizing charlatans reaping our children and our tax dollars for their private jets and seedy agendas. This book will very likely become my anti-reform bible. It has allowed me to catch up on a lot of the background I knew only vaguely. If you are coming to suspect something is wrong in the way our education system us being attacked and run into the ground, once you read this book you will have no doubts left. A Nation at Risk did correctly identify a problem that our nation will face in the future, a poorly educated, poorly prepared population. However it was a little ahead of its time. Our nation is at risk for being dumbed-down and privatized into obscurity by the wealthy and greedy forces (from both political parties) lining up at the public trough to gorge themselves on education dollars earmarked for our children. Diane’s book helped me see the bigger picture and larger context for our fight to save our society from those who would rape, pillage and enslave our children as the barbarian tribes ravaged the Roman Empire – when it reigned supreme. I dog-eared many a page while reading this book, for future blog posts and supporting references. If you are looking for a historical perspective on where we have been, how we have come to where we are, and where our education system is going if we fail to intervene, this is the book you need to own.

Cleaning Up John White’s Mess

Cleaning Up John White’s Mess

John White is likely to be gone by the end of June but Louisiana will still have its work cut out cleaning up the messes he will leave behind.  Some of those messes off the top of my head are:

but what I’m going to tackle now is the fatally flawed COMPASS and VAM system that even John White’s own staff agree is racially and socioeconomically biased – as you can see from this internal e-mail below that circulated before the Seabaugh Solution was reaffirmed by White.

I want you to read the passages I highlighted and let that sink in before I explain.  COMPASS is a teacher evaluation system designed for Louisiana.   It was initially developed with the help of an out-of-state researcher named Charlotte Danielson, who is considered one of the pre-eminent authorities in this field.  However Ms Danielson has done more than simply distance herself from our evaluation system.

Danielson was surprised to hear the state was launching a teacher observation tool without first trying it out in a few districts. Before Tennessee made its evaluation system a state requirement last year, for example, it experimented for a year with various observation models in schools across the state.

“It’s never a good idea to use something for high stakes without working out the bugs,” Danielson said. “The thing I worry about from a purely selfish standpoint is that my name gets associated with something people hate, and I’m not happy about that.”

Besides making people unhappy, mistakes could also end up costing the state, Danielson warned. “I worry a lot [that] if we have systems that are high stakes and low rigor, we’re going to end up with court cases,” she said.

You see, we only took a few of the simplest metrics she developed 5 of 22.

Louisiana has adopted part, but not all, of her framework for use in classroom observations, which will factor into a teacher’s annual score and which will ultimately determine whether educators can keep their jobs.

Although Danielson helped the state create a shortened version of her system at its request, she’s worried her truncated observation checklist could create problems for teachers and evaluators.

“I think it decreases accuracy. I think that’s an almost certain consequence,” she said.

Louisiana adopted the new system to comply with Act 54, a law passed in 2010 aimed at improving teacher quality in the state with more intensive, annual teacher evaluations. Half of a teacher’s rating will be calculated based on how he or she scores in the observation, and half will be determined by how students perform on standardized tests. Teachers who perform poorly on the evaluations could lose their certification.

But more than that, teachers could be fired as well, based on a model the creator of which claims is quite likely flawed because of its simplicity.  However what many of you might not realize is that teacher effectiveness is also determined by the VAM, or Value Added Modeling score.  In fact, when there is a difference between VAM and the COMPASS evaluation, VAM is the score a teacher gets, which means the COMPASS evaluation is essentially useless for 1/3 of all teachers which have a VAM score because they teach a test evaluated subject.  The VAM system was built on a questionable premise to being with, but what little credibility it might have gained was completely annihilated by John White and Alan Seabaugh’s tinkering with the system for personal reasons.

However even more alarming is that the solution adopted seems to punish teachers who teach our neediest students, students from the poorest backgrounds.  The way it does this is by giving “bonus points” to teachers teaching more advanced students, which tend to be more affluent ones.  VAM is based on a curve.  Everyone can’t get an A.  Effectiveness ratings are based on where teachers fall in the curve, where the top 10-20 % are the most effective, and the lowest 10-20 % are the least effective.  In this type of scheme, both success and failure are guaranteed, and your success is entirely dependent on the success of those around you.  When some teachers are given bonus points to lift their scores, this causes teachers without these points to drop into lower categories.  The Seabaugh Solution involves giving bonus points to teachers teaching advanced students, which means they will never be found ineffective, thus immune to  most of the negative implications of COMPASS and VAM and more likely to earn financial incentives.  Teachers teaching students in schools with poorly performing students, which are mostly poor and black, will be that much more likely to be found lacking. . .  and subject to being stripped of tenure, or even dismissed.

The COMPASS system and VAM must be abandoned.  John White has failed at everything he tried to do in Louisiana, and everything he has done has failed.  Now it’s time to clean up the rest of his mess.  We can start by eliminating VAM and COMPASS and the people he brought in from out of state like Hannah Dietsch and Molly Horstman to oversee a system that was known to be racially biased, politically tampered with and so poorly designed and implemented that the person who helped create it no longer wants her name associated with it, because she thinks it’s so bad and so unfair it could expose us to lawsuits that would be easily won.

Time to start eliminating the mess. . .
Time to start eliminating the mess. . .

Low test scores are the symptom, not “the Disease”

Low test scores are the symptom, not “the Disease”

Recently my posting has started dropping off because of some nasty fatigue issues that seemed to come out of nowhere. (Hopefully you haven’t noticed the lull too much, as I have quite a few pieces I’m working on at any given time, and researching others.) Sometimes a recent event or flash of insight drives me to squeeze one out in the wee hours of the morning, so I assumed that was the cause of my fatigue issues – and other aches and pains. Things got a lot worse all of a sudden and I decided I needed to go the doc to have him check me out.

Apparently I looked like I felt. First my PCP and then the specialist he sent me too (and every nurse in between) commented immediately on how crappy I looked and how horrible I must feel.

Usually I only go to the doctor when I have a bad sinus infection or cold, or for the occasional physical (or lightning strike like this summer), so I was a little taken aback by these declarations. I didn’t feel great, but this was “my normal” these days so didn’t think of myself in the context of unhealthy. I was just my new normal, basically.

After checking me over the doctor shook his head and dryly asked me if I wanted to continue living. I replied that I hadn’t made any other plans, so thought I’d try sticking around for a while, you know, at least until something better came along. Unfazed by my reply he continued “well, if you want to stick around, you’re going to have to make some changes. For starters you’re going to have to lose 30 or 40 pounds, or anything else I give you in the meantime won’t mean much in the long-term.” I can tell just by looking at your throat and sinuses you have sleep apnea, made a lot worse by being overweight. That high blood pressure you have is probably because of the apnea and partly because you’re overweight. You’ve developed acid reflux, and I see from your chart you have high cholesterol and bad everything else because you are overweight. I can treat your symptoms, we can talk about giving you corrective surgery to fix your unusually long tongue that extends too far back into your throat (yeah, that was as weird hearing that as it sounds reading it) and your really badly deviated septum, but if you don’t fix that weight problem I’m just delaying the inevitable.

Since then I’ve been thinking about my appointment and diagnosis and how it would be a lot easier just to take another pill, when something occurred to me. How I was responding to the situation was exactly how we, as a society, always find it easier to understand and treat the symptoms, and sometimes make things worse.

For instance, I think it’s universally accepted we have a problem with gun related deaths and shootings, although no consensus on what to do about it.  In the process of talking about restricting rights and access to guns, gun advocates have actually loosened laws controlling guns, and gun and ammo sales have gone through the roof. We have a gun obsession/culture problem, mental health problems, and a segment of society that feels like government is the enemy and needs to be guarded against, no matter the cost. If we don’t change these root causes of our gun problem, its unlikely any laws or legislation will provide anything but a crude band-aid that may do more damage when it’s torn off than the wound it was designed to protect.

We also have a poverty problem and an income inequality problem. There is a strong correlation between test scores and poverty. This correlation crosses racial, ethnic, regional, and international lines. Low test scores are not the problem, they are the symptom. They are a predictor we can use to identify poverty, just like we can use blood sugar readings to identify folks with diabetes. We can give people drugs to control their blood sugar levels, but this does not cure the diabetes. There is a popular belief running through society and education circles right now, that if we can only raise test scores for impoverished students, we can ignore the poverty. There is a belief that by treating the test scores “symptom,” we will erase the disease of endemic poverty.

Just like being overweight causes all sorts of “symptoms” and ancillary diseases and can be treated with any number of medications and surgeries, the stark reality is that if you don’t treat the underlying problem, the obesity, you are just masking the symptom, not treating the disease. The over reliance on testing and test scores, and the all-consuming drive to raise them is our society’s latest and greatest “miracle pill,” and quite likely a cure that will prove to be much worse than the symptom or even the disease. Test score preachers will have you believe that if we can only fix two things in a child’s, their reading score and math score, the rest of their life will be smooth sailing, problem solved.

In the Atlanta testing scandal (and in the upcoming DC Michele Rhee scandal), teachers and administrators simply changed the scale to distort the readings, by erasing wrong test answers and putting correct ones. In that case nothing happened but altering the test results, yet these “successes” we lauded as proof that test scores could be raised and outcomes dramatically changed. These successes were then touted and exported to other educational markets. Michele Rhee has made a career of touting the importance of falsely raising test scores without ever proving a correlation between her “remedy” and a lasting cure. Now we find many of these miracle cures were nothing more than snake oil, masking the symptoms of the larger poverty disease which still burns and eats away at the core of our society and our children. While now the focus is on the cheating that took place, and punishing those responsible, still we ignore the question of whether raising a test score is a cure in the first place!

It sure would be nice if I could just get a positive airflow machine (ok not really, who wants to wear a mask all night?), fix my sleep apnea and that would be the end of the story. I take plenty of pills that lower all my symptoms (at first it was just one or two but now I’m close to 8 or so) but none of them fix my weight problem. The longer I wait to address my underlying problem, the more pills I will have to take. Eventually I won’t be able to take them anymore. Now you may say, everyone dies. And while that’s true, that doesn’t mean we all have to die tomorrow or be miserable up until the day we finally do kick the bucket.

Raising math and reading test scores is just treating a few very meager symptoms of a very complex problem. A higher test score doesn’t get a poor child to a doctor when they have a medical necessity and need treatment for a real disease.  5 more points on a reading score doesn’t fill a hungry belly, or one subsisting on unhealthy nutritionless sugar-based calories – because they are cheaper and accessible. A slightly higher math score might make a tight-wad billionaire or three feel better about their education agenda, but it doesn’t watch a child in the evenings and make sure they stay out of trouble – while mommy and daddy work two jobs just to put even empty calories on the table. Eliminating music and art teachers from schools to replace them with computers that ceaselessly test and drill your children in exercises might just raise their test scores a little, but that computer doesn’t “get” Picasso and Mozart and it does nothing to feed their souls, or expand their horizons or imaginations.

Raising test scores might make Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch feel good, but have no illusions about curing the disease of poverty. Actual cures take more resources, more commitment, more money; a more holistic approach, not an absurdly limited one.

Would you believe anyone who tells you that you can eat as much as you want, never exercise, eat only the unhealthiest foods and take 2 little miracle pills and you will live a long and prosperous life? Do you really believe we can ignore all of the challenges poverty brings to children and families, and believe just raising their test scores a few points on a standardized test will make everything ok?

Do you believe that, or is it just easier to believe that. . . and to keep pretending that we don’t have a real problem?

Problem solved!
Problem solved!